Chapter 148: A Request for Marriage
“It was decided that one of third brother’s men would be in charge of the construction. That we cannot change. Still, I’m not willing to let everything go his way...”
“Does Your Highness intends to teach the third prince a lesson?” asked Jun Huang. “Your Highness can report to the emperor that the third prince has taken bribe from the official. That’s why he recommended the official to take on the job. You can then tell the emperor that you are willing to complete the construction with money out of your own pocket.”
Qi Chen blinked. For a moment, he didn’t quite understand what Jun Huang was getting at. He frowned as he went through the whole plan in his head. It was a low blow, but it would be effective.
Anger drained out of his body. With a faint smile, he ordered a servant to bring in the dessert that the cook had prepared as an offering to Jun Huang. Jun Huang wasn’t going to let Qi Chen get what he wanted. She glanced at the delicate dessert and said, “This gentleman has not been feeling well recently. The doctor told me to not eat anything sweet. Thank you for your consideration, Your Highness, but this gentleman will have to turn this away.”
“Of course,” Qi Chen muttered. “Your health is more important.”
They shared a few more words before Jun Huang took her leave.
As soon as she left the manor, she saw one of her men waiting for her in an alleyway. Her heart pounded against her ribcage. She had sent this man to look for Yin Yun and Jun Hao. Had he found something?
Jun Huang barely kept herself from bursting in excitement. Once she had left the scrutiny of Qi Chen’s people, the man walked up to her and cupped his hands in greeting. “This subordinate has visited many places. I found clues to the whereabout of the men gentleman Feng is looking for - it seems that they are in Yun Town.”
Jun Huang tightened her fists and took a deep breath. Her breathing became shallow and quiet. “Are you certain that the information is reliable?”
“This subordinate has not seen them with my own eyes, but from my questioning the information seems to be legitimate.”
Jun Huang tried to think about it with a clear head, but she could not form a single coherent thought. Her emotions had gotten the better of her.
She returned to Nan Xun’s manor like a lost spirit. Seeing her unfocused eyes, Nan Xun approached her and asked, “What happened? Is there a problem you can’t solve?”
Jun Huang had not recovered from the news yet. Her heart soared even higher with Nan Xun here. Inhaling deeply, she tried her best to calm down. “The man I sent out to track down Jun Hao has returned. He and Yin Yun seem to be in Yun Town… Ah, I have to leave for Yun Town at once! I can’t sleep easy until I make sure they are safe!”
Jun Huang shot up to her feet and intended to return to her place to pack.
Nan Xun frowned. Jun Huang had completely lost her calm. He didn’t have any evidence, but his instinct told him that something was amiss. They had both sent many people to track down her brother to no avail, and now a mere guard came back with concrete lead?
Either the guard had been compromised, or someone had deliberately led the guard to Yun Town for some unknown reason.
Nan Xun grabbed Jun Huang’s arm before she could rush out to prepare for the trip. He held Jun Huang’s gaze. “Calm down. If you run off to Yun Town without a plan, you may be falling into someone’s trap. We have to think about this.”
Jun Huang’s heart was already in a different place. She had made up her mind to go to Yun Town. She was barely listening. “Calm down? How can I be calm? I’ve been apart from my only family for too long! I don’t know how they are right now. I’ve never stopped looking for them. Every day I found nothing but dead end. Now that I finally got a clue, I have to go look for them even if it is a trap.”
“That’s exactly why we have to be careful!” Nan Xun said seriously, holding firm to Jun Huang’s arm. “Don’t you want to avenge Western Que? If it’s really a trap, you’ll be losing your chance to achieve your goal.”
Jun Huang finally managed to settle her racing heart. She took a deep breath and turned to Nan Xun. “What will you have me do?”
Nan Xun was quiet for a moment. The logical thing to do would be to question the guard who brought her the news.
Jun Huang ordered a servant to retrieve the guard for her without any arguments. Nan Xun took the lead in interrogating the guard.
The guard said that he had followed the breadcrumbs to Yun Town. He heard a local resident say that there were refugees from Western Que in the area. The guard had intended to continue investigating, but Yin Yun was a master in martial art. Every time he felt like he was getting close, he lost the trail. In the end he had no choice but to report back to Jun Huang.
Nan Xun let the guard leave after questioning him. It was difficult to tell if the information was legitimate.
He didn’t want to put Jun Huang in danger. He told his own shadowguard to look into the matter, trying to reassure Jun Huang.
Once she had calmed down, Jun Huang agreed with Nan Xun that everything seemed too good to be true. She threw herself back into the wedding preparation and never mentioned Yun Town again.
She spared some time to offer advice to Qi Chen on how he could undermine the third prince. It was as if she was playing a chess match against Ji Bo through the two princes. Qi Chen and the third prince were locked in a vicious fight. Neither had the efforts to spare for Qi Yun.
The mood in the palace, on the contrary, was light and warm. Wan’er was going to get married. She was reluctant to leave the emperor and her mother. Therefore she would visit the emperor whenever she had the time.
Today, she happened upon a meeting between the emperor and the Grand Chancellor. Wan’er was going to walk away, but the emperor told her to stay.
A servant brought in some pastries. Wan’er handed one to the emperor out of consideration. The emperor patted her hand with a warm smile. “You have grown up to be a fine lady. You’re not going to have as much time for me after your wedding.”
“That’s not true,” Wan’er said in a sweet voice, holding onto the emperor’s elbow like a child. “Even after I’m married, I’ll still come visit Royal Father often. Besides, Wan’er feels like the wedding has been too sudden. I haven’t had the time to prepare myself.”
The emperor touched the tip of her nose lightly and let out a fond sigh. “Our Wan’er always acts like a child. You are a woman already. You have to get married sooner or later.”
“Sister Shangguan Yue is a year older than I am,” muttered Wan’er. “I’m getting married, but sister Shangguan Yue is still waiting for the day she gets her courtesy name.”
The emperor looked up at Sir Shangguan and asked, “Yue’er still doesn’t have a husband?”
Sir Shangguan responded respectfully, “That is true. My daughter has not married yet.”
“Does the official have someone in mind?” the emperor asked out of politeness. He didn’t really expect an answer.
Something flashed through Sir Shangguan’s eyes. After a moment of silence, he dropped down to his knees and bowed at the emperor. “My daughter is at the age when women are at their most beautiful. Many have asked for my daughter’s hand. She, however, has too high a standard. There’s someone she is in love with. This official doesn’t know what I should do.”
Surprised, the emperor hurriedly helped Sir Shangguan up and asked, “What do you mean? Who is it that Yue’er is in love with?”
“Yue’er is in love with the prince who bears a different surname - Prince Nan Xun.”
The emperor blinked. He didn’t expect Shangguan Yue to fall for Nan Xun. Nan Xun had always been cold and aloof to other people. Why would anyone love him?
He thought back to the banquet of a hundred families a few months ago. He had left early. Later he heard that Shangguan Yue performed a graceful dance for Nan Xun and Nan Xun only. He had thought it was merely a rumor. It turned out it was the truth.
The emperor had not responded. Sir Shangguan was reminded of Nan Xun, who could not be convinced through either force or emotional plea.
Nonetheless, Shangguan Yue refused to marry anyone but Nan Xun. His beloved daughter finally ran into something she wanted but could not get. As a father, Sir Shangguan couldn’t give up without doing anything.
He bowed down until his head touched the floor and said, “Yue’er said she would not marry anyone unless it’s Prince Nan Xun. At first I thought she didn’t mean it, but she did. She wishes every day for the prince to spare her a glance. It made my heart ache.”
“This old official has been serving the court for decades. If Your Majesty remembers what I’ve done for this country, please arrange a marriage for my daughter. That will be my only wish before my eventual death.”
He kowtowed hard against the floor, making a loud thud. The emperor was at a loss of what to say to deny him his wish.
Seeing the dark look on the emperor’s face, Wan’er could tell that the emperor didn’t want Nan Xun to gain the support of the Shangguan family. She approached Sir Shangguan with a polite smile. “It’s natural for Sir Shangguan to make such request. Parents are always worried about finding their daughters a good spouse. And sister Shangguan does like brother Nan a lot… But Wan’er thinks that it’s better to first ask brother Nan himself about what he feels.”
Wan’er was offering an olive branch to both the emperor and Sir Shangguan, but Sir Shangguan would not take no for an answer. He disregarded Wan’er’s words and looked up at the emperor.
“Your Majesty, throughout history there are many cases where members of the royal family married children of an official. This official knows what Your Majesty is worried about, but there’s something this official would like to explain.”
The emperor hesitated. He didn’t expect Sir Shangguan to bring up his concerns so openly. He paused and gestured for Sir Shangguan to continue.
“Prince Nan Xun was given the command of the army by the last emperor,” said Sir Shangguan. “Your Majesty can’t recover the power without going against the last emperor’s order. Nan Xun has the potential to overthrow this country at will. Without some check and balance, he may become the most powerful man in this country.”
The emperor gave him a sideway glance. There was some truth to what Sir Shangguan had said. The Shangguan family, however, was a powerful family in Northern Qi. If they came together with Nan Xun, it might pose an even bigger threat to the emperor.
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